Balance the Freelancing See-saw

Balance the freelancing see-saw blog post

Balancing the ups and downs of your freelancing see-saw can be a challenge.

Tall Tartan Talks here … I’ve listed 12 ways in which freelancing is like life on a see-saw with ups and downs, how to maintain control and balance, and how to cope with swings that make us panic.

Scheduling time for each aspect helps give a sense of control. As a freelance proofreader, I try to manage the swings so that I have more control. A tip I have learnt – things may not get done unless they are scheduled. Included are suggested reminders for fun …

12 Elements to balance

1. Managing clients

Freelancers need to balance client expectations, contend with deadlines and project requirements, while ensuring you are not overextending yourself or compromising on quality. Some clients raise ‘red flags’ in our minds from their requests. Ask yourself, is this client is a good fit?

2. Managing time

Freelancers need to manage their time efficiently to juggle multiple projects, meet deadlines, and allocate time for administrative tasks, such as invoicing and client communication. Develop the habit of, firstly, scheduling projects to allow ‘wiggle room’; secondly, working on a job in manageable stages, perhaps easiest part first (or do you prefer to get the hardest part over with?). Try time blocking. Avoid daily overwhelm by taking regular breaks.

Schedule time: #TreatTime (eg do a hobby for 15 minutes.)

3. Managing finances

Freelancers need to manage their income and expenses effectively. There are times when you’ll earn more than expected (fantastic!). Boost your savings. Other times your income may be more limited than usual. Balancing your financial stability is crucial.

Whenever I buy something for my business, eg equipment, software, a course, and receive the receipt, I open my Excel Expenses spreadsheet and list the date and expense. I feel more efficient and in control. This means I am up to date with my evidence by 6 April for filing my HMRC Self-Assessment Tax Return.

When I return the completed proofread I attach my invoice – again, opening my pinned Excel Invoices spreadsheet to enter the details promptly. Go so far as prepare the invoice before completing the job so that just the final details need to be entered.

Schedule time: #AdminMonday #FinanceFriday

4. Using time efficiently in times of famine

Freelancers can experience periods of busy work schedules and high demand (feast) followed by slower times with fewer clients and projects (famine). Balancing those extremes can be challenging (see point 3). When a client cancels or postpones work, perhaps another client can be brought forward? Or ask a colleague if they could refer work. Or is it time to book some CPD – that training course you’ve had your mind on?

5. Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

Freelancers need to keep their skills up to date to stay knowledgeable and instil trust. Scheduling time for ongoing training and skill improvement with client work is essential for future-proofing your business. I have completed many training courses run by the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP); if you’re a member you get a discount.

Schedule time: #TrainingTuesday

6. Balancing health and well-being

Freelancers need to maintain their physical and mental health. The demands of freelancing can lead to neglecting self-care, so finding the right balance is crucial. At least get out for some fresh air and look up at the clouds. My examples of exercise below use the hashtag popular on the socials (‘stet’ is an editing term meaning leave the marked word as it is).

Schedule time: #StetWalk #StetRun #StetCycle #StetSwim

Or stroke a #StetPet

balance freelancing see-saw blog post

7. Networking

Building and maintaining professional relationships and networks are crucial for freelancers. Balancing that time and effort with doing paid client work is vital.

For me networking happens on a particular day when I attend two online groups on Zoom – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. One group is for all breeds of freelancers; the other is run by my Institute and is editor-specific.

Schedule time: #NetworkThursday

8. Marketing

Freelancers may need to promote their services to maintain a steady stream of clients. This can require a delicate balance of marketing efforts. Use social media to show up and show people your services. They won’t know what you do unless you tell them.

But, when work is challenging with a tight deadline, how do you find your next client if you have no time to do any marketing? Scheduling tools for social media posts can be your friend.

Schedule time: #MarketingMonday

9. Work/life balance

Achieving a healthy work/life balance is often a struggle for freelancers. The flexibility of freelancing can sometimes blur the lines between work and personal life, making it challenging to maintain boundaries. Anyone else work at the weekends? Sure, when necessary.

I used to resent it when I was a teacher and using my weekend for marking, assessment, and planning. There just wasn’t enough time during the week. My family suffered. I never saw them. I felt guilty. If you do feel the need to work at the weekend, make sure you balance it by taking one or two days off during the week to maintain control of your freelancing see-saw. And make time to see the people in your life who are important.

Schedule time: #FamilyFriday

10. Do a variety of projects

Freelancers often work on a variety of projects with different requirements and clients. Balancing diverse tasks and meeting client expectations is like adjusting weight on a see-saw.

I prefer to book an easy project after the challenges of a long, complicated project as a way of changing gears. Of course, what is easy to one freelancer is not easy to another; it depends on our strengths and interests. How about treats or rewards: do you reward yourself when a task or stage or project is complete?

Schedule time: #TreatTime (This hashtag appeared in point 2 but treats are important to me as a great motivator!)

11. To specialise or generalise?

Freelancers can take the opportunity to specialise by providing editing or proofreading services in their niche. Editors that generalise say they can edit both fiction and non-fiction. Specialists offer editing in specific genres of fiction or non-fiction. The choice is yours. Using a previous career is a good starting point for a specialism as you already have more knowledge in that field than others, eg education, law, medicine, music. Or, you may want to move into a new area.

12. Flexibility versus stability

Freelancing offers flexibility but can lack the stability of a traditional job with an employer. Balancing the desire for freedom and autonomy with the need for financial security is an ongoing challenge. Flexibility of work hours and choice of clients is preferable, but the temptation of a regular income can be strong.

Balancing

Overall, freelancing, like being on a see-saw, involves constant adjustments and careful balancing and control to ensure a successful and fulfilling freelance life.

Up and down, up and down … How do you ride the peaks and troughs? How do you stay calm? Finding the right balance for each of these aspects is a key challenge for freelancers. But so rewarding when it works!

balancing the freelancing seesaw
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Punctuating Children’s Fiction (Part 2)

Punctuating Children's Fiction Part 2 blog post

This Part 2 guide on punctuating children’s fiction follows on from Part 1. It is mainly for my clients who are independent (indie), self-publishing authors of children’s books because it answers the questions they ask about punctuation.

The rules, though, apply to any writer of fiction.

When I give feedback to indie authors who ask for help about how to punctuate, especially the dialogue in their book, this is my advice.

 

Covered in Part 1

  • capitalisation
  • dialogue (speech)
  • paragraph break
  • exclamation mark
  • question mark
  • comma
  • ellipsis
  • curly quote marks.

 

Punctuating further

Here in Part 2 are more advanced types of punctuation: colons, semicolons, hyphens and types of dashes (including the en dash and em dash), and brackets (parentheses).

These punctuation features are used in more complex stories and texts for older children and young adults. As children progress through upper primary school (Key stage 2), they learn how to read them, their function and effect, and how to apply them in their own writing.

  • colon
  • semicolon
  • brackets
  • hyphen/dash (-)
  • en dash (–)
  • em dash (—).

 

Colon (:)

A colon is used to introduce the information that follows it.

– Introducing a list: The colon is used before a list of items, examples, or explanations, eg There are three primary colours: red, blue and yellow.

– Introducing a quote or statement: When introducing a quote, a colon can be used, eg She had one motto: Never give up.

 

Semicolon (;)

A semicolon is used to connect two closely related but independent clauses, creating a stronger link than a full stop or comma. The main uses of semicolons are:

– Joining related independent clauses, eg She went to the party; he stayed at home.

– Separating items in a complex list. When a list already contains items with commas, semicolons can be used to separate the list items. For example, The colours available were red, blue, and green; other colours were unavailable.

 

I’ve seen much confusion in the use of colons and semicolons. Writers don’t remember the differences between them. If it looks wrong, if you’re in doubt, don’t use them. Or ask someone to check you’ve used them correctly.

 

Hyphen/dash (-)

The hyphen or dash is used to join words together to form compound words or to make nouns become adjectival phrases when they are used to describe a noun.

Do you prefer ‘well-being’ or ‘wellbeing’? NODWE (New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors) uses a hyphen; Collins Dictionary doesn’t. When you have decided on whether to hyphenate a word or not, keep the style for consistency.

Another common use is that adjectival words are hyphenated before a noun, eg well-known phrase, up-to-date regulations.

 

En dash (–)

When the dash gets longer, it becomes the en dash/en rule (–) and em dash/em rule (—). Until I did my proofreading training with the CIEP I had no idea there were differences. I hadn’t looked that closely …

The en dash is the length of an ‘n’ and is used in two ways:

1. To represent a range of values, such as numbers or dates, eg pages 10–15, 1980–1985.

2. Instead of commas to show a parenthetical phrase, eg Alfie had fair hair that was far too long – making him peer under his fringe – and pale blue eyes. En dashes are used in the same way as brackets. Used mainly in UK fiction and non-fiction.

Em dash (—)

The em dash is the length of an ‘m’. It is more likely to used for parentheses in fiction published in the US. Again, it indicates a break in thought or to separate parenthetical phrases in a sentence. It provides emphasis, eg The weather—hot and humid—was unbearable. It can also be used to show interrupted speech, eg I thought for a while, then—.

Don’t worry too much about en dashes and em dashes in your book. Children don’t learn about them in school. There is no need to use them in your books for children.

If you are an author and your editor spots that dashes have been used instead of en dashes or em dashes, they have an efficient way of changing them as part of their editing service. So no worries.

 

Brackets (parentheses)

Parentheses are used to enclose additional information or explanations within a sentence. They provide extra detail or clarification, eg The conference (where there were over 200 delegates) was very informative.

 

Ensuring readability and clarity

There we are. That concludes your author guide to punctuating children’s fiction, whether you’ve written a picture book, chapter book, or fiction for Middle Grade (MA) or Young Adult (YA) readers.

Remember to use punctuation marks thoughtfully and appropriately to improve the clarity and readability in your writing. Using a variety of punctuation will keep the reader interested.

But if there is a missing full stop, misplaced comma or quote mark, it will trip the reader up.

If you’re still unsure about how to use punctuation, go to a bookshop or library, pick up a book for the age and genre you are writing for, and look at how the punctuation is used.

 

Using my teaching experience

My experience of 30 years teaching in the primary classroom is valuable if you need advice on writing a children’s book.

Think of me as a fairy godmother placing that punctuation perfectly … Your book is in safe hands.

Fairy godmother sprinkling publishing confidence.
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Email me

See my Contact me page to email me about my availability to proofread children’s books and educational books.

 

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Further reading

Punctuating Children’s Fiction (Part 1)

Some of my relevant blog posts:

What is a Good Question?

What is a Good Question blog post

“Does anyone have any questions?” is a question often asked in a Zoom meeting in the networking groups I attend as part of running my business.

Tall Tartan Talks here … Questioning fascinates me. How does skilled questioning promote learning progress?

What is a good question?

Questioning

Questioning refers to the act of asking questions to acquire information, stimulate thinking, or prompt discussion. It is an essential tool for teaching, learning, and critical thinking. Effective questioning can engage learners, encourage reflection, and deepen understanding.

When I taught in the classroom, it was vital to ask the children a range of questions to widen and deepen their understanding, whether that was in English comprehension, Maths mastery, Science investigation, and so on. There were eagerly inquisitive children who asked cracking questions. My response when there was an interruption from an over-enthusiastic learner waving their hand wildly in the air was: “Hold that thought!”

Encouraging them to justify their answer further by asking “Because?” meant they didn’t just ‘parrot’ what the child next to them said. It prompted them to give their own explanation.

It thrilled me when a learner’s ‘lightbulb’ lit up – and new thinking progress was made.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

When I wrote worksheets for teaching curriculum subjects, Bloom’s Taxonomy, developed by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, was the framework of questioning used to ensure all levels of cognitive complexity were addressed.

It provides a structure to design and assess learning experiences. Bloom’s Taxonomy is often represented as a hierarchical model with six levels, each representing a different cognitive process.

Not all levels are addressed in all activities (that would be exhausting!) but aiming for a balance of question types in a range of subjects over a week ensures maximum opportunities for learning.

Levels

  1. Remember: This level involves recalling or recognising information. Questions at this level focus on factual knowledge and require learners to retrieve information from memory. Example questions: Who…? What…?
  2. Understand: This level involves demonstrating comprehension and interpreting information. Questions at this level aim to check if learners can explain ideas, concepts, or principles in their own words. Example question: What is the main idea of the paragraph you just read.
  3. Apply: This level involves using knowledge or skills in new situations. Questions at this level require learners to apply what they have learned to solve problems or complete tasks. Example question: How would you demonstrate …?
  4. Analyse: This level involves breaking down information into parts and understanding the relationships between them. Questions at this level focus on examining patterns, identifying causes and effects, or making connections. Example question: How can you sort the different parts?
  5. Evaluate: This level involves making judgements or assessments based on criteria and evidence. Questions at this level require learners to analyse information, consider different perspectives, and form opinions. Example question: What are the implications of …?
  6. Create: This level involves generating new ideas, products, or solutions. Questions at this level encourage learners to think creatively, design, and produce original work. Example question: How would you design …?

Bloom’s Taxonomy encourages higher-order thinking skills and helps learners develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Bloom's Taxonomy Pyramid
Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid

What is a good question?

Asking a good question means inquiring clearly in a way that is relevant, specific, and well-structured to gain informative and valuable responses. It involves the art of effectively conveying your curiosity or seeking information from others in a way that maximizes the chances of getting a meaningful answer.

Characteristics of a good question

  • Clarity: A good question is easy to understand and free from ambiguity. It should be straightforward and unambiguous, leaving little room for misinterpretation.
  • Relevance: The question should be pertinent to the context or topic at hand. It should address the specific issue you want to explore.
  • Specificity: Good questions are specific and focused, targeting particular aspects of the subject matter rather than being overly broad or vague.
  • Purpose: A good question has a clear purpose or objective. It should convey what you hope to achieve by asking it, whether it’s gaining knowledge or solving a problem.
  • Open-endedness: Open-ended questions allow for more in-depth and thoughtful responses. They encourage the person answering to provide detailed and comprehensive information rather than simple yes/no answers.
  • Conciseness: A well-phrased question is concise and to the point. Avoid unnecessary jargon, complexity, or unnecessary information that could confuse.
  • Respectful and non-leading: Ensure that your question is respectful and unbiased. Avoid leading the respondent towards a particular answer or expressing judgement in the question itself.
  • Thoughtfulness: Take a moment to consider if the question has already been answered or if it can be easily researched elsewhere before asking.
  • Context-awareness: Consider the background and knowledge level of the person you’re asking the question. Adapt the question complexity and terminology accordingly.
  • Follow-up potential: Ask a question that encourages follow-up discussion or elaboration, allowing for a deeper exploration of the subject matter.

By asking good questions, you demonstrate a genuine interest in learning and engage in constructive conversations. This can lead to valuable insights, improved understanding, and a more fruitful exchange of ideas.

Questions arising in business

Asking clients questions

Having trained first as a teacher then as a proofreader when I left the classroom after 30 years, I have become much better at asking questions, asking the text questions, and fact-checking. Not just accepting that the text is correct.

I am most likely to ask questions when I want clarity with a freelance proofreading job that I have been offered by a publisher. I used to worry I was asking a stupid question. But it’s fine to check if a detail in the brief is unclear.

More often than not, the client would answer my question promptly with reassurance. Phew!

Clients asking questions

These days half of my clients are self-publishing, independent (indie) authors. They have many questions, especially if they are looking to publish their first children’s book (one of my specialisms).

I have written several blog posts for authors in answer to their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to reassure them about the process involved. The most commonly asked question is, “How do I self-publish?” If I don’t know the answer to a question, I’ll know someone who does …

So my question to you is, are you inquisitive and curious? What do you want to find out? How will you do this?

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https://www.teachit.co.uk/cpd/ite/blooms-taxonomy

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/pedagogy-focus-what-blooms-taxonomy

Punctuating Children’s Fiction

Punctuating children's fiction blog post

This guide on punctuating children’s fiction is for those of my clients who are independent, self-publishing authors of children’s books. They ask me for guidance about how to use punctuation.

When I give feedback to indie authors about how to punctuate their book, especially the dialogue, this is how I answer their questions.

Punctuating children’s fiction

Punctuation in children’s fiction uses the same rules as punctuation in adult fiction, especially when writing dialogue (speech).

If you are an author of children’s books, here’s how you can make sure the punctuation in your story is used correctly.

  • Use age-appropriate language
  • Capitalisation
  • Punctuating dialogue (speech)
  • Paragraph
  • Exclamation mark
  • Question mark
  • Comma
  • Ellipsis
  • Curly quote marks.

Using age-appropriate language

Children’s fiction often targets specific age groups, so the language and punctuation should be suitable for the intended readers.

Younger children’s books will have simpler sentences and less complex punctuation. While books for older children will have a variety of sentence structures (long phrasing contrasted with a short, snappy sentence before or after) to create dramatic effect, tension or humour.

A gripping fiction story will have a selection of action, description and dialogue.

If any of the story is punctuated incorrectly, your reader will spot it and ‘trip up’ which will spoil their enjoyment of the story.

Capitalisation

Capitalise the first letter of a sentence, proper nouns, and the pronoun ‘I’. Avoid excessive capitalisation for emphasis, as it can be distracting and disrupt readability.

Punctuating dialogue (speech)

There are particular rules when punctuating dialogue/speech between characters. In the sentence “I love ice cream,” said Sarah, the dialogue is “I love ice cream”. The dialogue tag is ‘said Sarah’.

  • When punctuating dialogue, use quotation marks to enclose the spoken words. That is, all dialogue goes inside the speech/quotation marks.
  • There is always closing punctuation before the closing quote mark, eg a full stop, comma, question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!).
  • Place a comma before the closing quotation mark when a dialogue tag (eg said, asked) follows the dialogue. For example, “I love ice cream,” said Sarah; “Can we go to the park?” asked Tom.
  • There is always a comma before the opening quote mark if the character tag is first, eg John muttered, “I can’t believe you’re going to do that.”
  • Only the speech goes inside quote marks. The character speaking stays outside the marks.

Paragraph

Use paragraphs to indicate changes in speakers during dialogue or shifts in the action or setting. This helps young readers follow the story more easily and keeps the text visually appealing.

A simple way to remember how to set out dialogue: new speaker = new line.

Exclamation mark

Children’s fiction often includes enthusiastic and expressive language. Exclamation marks can be used to convey excitement, surprise or strong emotions. However, it’s important not to overuse them. Selectively include exclamation marks for impactful moments. And, I suggest, use only one at a time. Four is overkill …

Question mark

Use a question mark at the end of a question. Begin the next sentence with a capital letter, eg ‘How did he get there? He couldn’t have done it alone.’

A question generally starts with one of these five words – What? Where? When? How? Why?

Comma

Use commas to separate two or more items or adjectives in a list of description, eg She packed her favourite toys, books and snacks.

In longer children’s fiction, consider contrasting a long sentence (with commas placed for breathing pauses between clauses) after a short sentence, for dramatic impact.

A serial comma (Oxford comma) is used before ‘and’ in a list. For example, (from the sentence above) ‘She packed her favourite toys, books, and snacks’ I’ve added a serial comma here. Some would argue the serial comma is not needed as the meaning is clear. However, in other contexts, the comma would add clarity. Whichever style you choose, ensure consistency throughout your manuscript.

If a sentence contains two independent clauses, avoid using a comma to separate them.

❌ I loved walking, I tried to walk for an hour each day.

This is called a comma splice. It doesn’t work. Separate the two sentences with a full stop.

✔️ I loved walking. I tried to walk for an hour each day.

Ellipsis

An ellipsis (3 dots: …) can be used in dialogue to indicate a pause or speech stalling. It can help convey hesitation or suspense. For example, “I’m not sure … maybe we should wait.”

Make sure you use three dots, not two or four dots. Decide how you’re going to use space around the ellipsis: no spaces / no space before and one after / one space before and one after. Whatever spacing you use around your ellipses (plural), make it consistent throughout your manuscript.

Curly quotation marks

Quotation marks, also called inverted commas, are of two types, single (‘ ’) and double (“ ”), and can be curly, like these examples, or straight.

Straight quote marks are the easiest to type (just use the keyboard). However, curly quote marks are the convention in fiction publishing.

Double curly quote marks can be inserted using Alt codes. Ensure consistency of use, ie single or double quotes, not a mixture.

If you’re unsure, your editor/proofreader will change them to curly quotes as part of the editing process.

There are other types of punctuation that I will cover in another post, eg colons, semicolons, hyphens, and brackets (parentheses) which children learn to recognise and use in upper primary school.

Giving a smooth reading journey

It is vital you give your readers a smooth reading journey and that they enjoy your book without the distraction of punctuation errors.

Ensure punctuation is used correctly and consistently. List your style choices on a style sheet to help you remember what decisions you’ve made. Give this list to your editor/proofreader so they know the styles you prefer.

If you don’t have a style sheet, we will create one for you by listing what we find as we read, advising on the most consistently used styles in your writing.

Always consider the age group of your intended audience to ensure the punctuation enhances the readability and enjoyment of the story.

Using my teaching experience

My experience of 30 years teaching in the primary classroom is valuable if you need advice on writing a children’s book.

Children build on their writing skills through primary school, developing complexities in punctuation as they approach Year 6 (age 10/11).

So it is vital that punctuation is correct in children’s books. They learn from reading good examples. Then they can apply a range of punctuation in their own writing.

Learning from published children’s authors

Another tip. I advise new indie authors to go into the Children’s books section of a bookshop. Open a book for the age range you are writing for, one that tempts you by the cover, and study how the punctuation is used. In other words, learn from a variety of published children’s book authors.

Me? I research the releases of new books for children, keeping an eye out for authors/illustrators that have published stories that are recommended.

Personally, I adore the skill in well-illustrated picture books, especially for older children, that carry profound messages.

Finally, think of me as a fairy godmother sprinkling publishing confidence. Placing that punctuation perfectly …

Fairy godmother sprinkling publishing confidence.
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See my Contact me page to ask about my availability to proofread children’s books and educational books.

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Further reading

Punctuating Children’s Fiction (Part 2)

Some of my blog posts which fit with this one:

4 Tools for Writing and Editing Efficiency

4 Tools for Writing and Editing Efficiency blog post

Whether you are writing or editing, your productivity is aided immensely by using tools which will assist your efficiency.

Tall Tartan Talks here … I describe four software tools I use to make writing and editing quicker.

The tools will also save using the mouse and lower your risk of Repetitive Strain Syndrome (RSI).

Productivity tools

The tools I use are:

  • TextExpander
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • PerfectIt
  • Macros

 

There are more, of course, but four are described here for brevity.

 

TextExpander

TextExpander is ‘Customisable and shareable snippets of text that allow you to fly through repetitive tasks quickly by expanding the things you type regularly’ (textexpander.com). I pay for this software, but there are other free phrase expander apps.

The software has access to your keyboard. When a pre-chosen snippet is typed, it writes the message in full, thereby saving much time and effort. You choose your opening code.

I have a range of phrases listed, from those needed in general situations, like typing my email address, to using a phrase repeatedly in the comments of certain proofreading projects, eg ‘Insert comma’ (snippet: zic). Another favourite snippet to insert is my mobile number (snippet: z0). All my snippets begin with ‘z’ as it’s rarely used as an initial letter in my writing.

Another example is when an indie client emails to ask if I am available to proofread their book. I have a snippet that produces an email with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) such as deadline, genre, word count, and request for a sample (even though these points are all listed on my Contact me page as requirements when emailing).

Phrase expanders are also useful for when a diplomatic email is needed. Save the preferred wording and reduce the thinking angst, increasing efficiency.

I have saved particular snippets in specific project files in TextExpander; I keep my snippets software open when I am using them for a job, rather than trying to remember them all!

 

4 Tools for Writing and Editing Efficiency blog post

 

Keyboard shortcuts

In Microsoft Word in PC Windows there are many keyboard shortcuts.

Some well-known ones are:

  • Ctrl S: Save
  • Ctrl X: Cut
  • Ctrl C: Copy
  • Ctrl V: Paste
  • Ctrl Z: Undo

These shortcuts work across many programmes, not just in Microsoft Word. Ctrl Z has helped me out of trouble on numerous occasions in numerous places!

 

PerfectIt

PerfectIt is proofreading software for professionals, purchased from Intelligent Editing. An Add-on in Microsoft Word, when activated and launched, it finds inconsistencies in style preferences. All style choices can be checked or specific checks selected. It gives a summary of possible errors at the end of the check.

It now includes a link to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), which, if you edit in US English, many editors working internationally have found invaluable.

PerfectIt is not free, but there is a discount if you are a member of the CIEP (ciep.uk). Find discounts in the Members’ area. It is worth the price for the convenience of speed and efficiency.

 

Macros

Another option for efficiency is to use macros instead of / as well as PerfectIt.

Macros are freely available from Paul Beverley’s website: www.wordmacrotools.com

A macro is some coding that you tell Microsoft Word what you want to check. Paul has made 1,000s of macros over the years all for public use. I use a couple; my favourite one is DocAlyse which finds inconsistencies in styles (in the same way as PerfectIt).

Some editors even customise their mouse by linking keyboard shortcuts and macros to mouse buttons.

 

Being more efficient

Most of my proofreading is done on PDFs as the publishing workflow of the publisher or indie author nears the end. But, for efficiency’s sake, I will convert a PDF to Word and save my copy just to be able to run PerfectIt and my favourite macros to speed up finding inconsistencies.

If you’re writing or editing, what tools do *you* use to be more efficient and productive? Remember to experiment with different software options for efficiency to find what speeds up tasks for you.

The idea is to be more efficient, letting the software do the ‘grunt’ work – the routine editing tasks – so that we editors, the trained experts, have more time to make specific editorial decisions. That is, prioritising the human side of editing.

4 Tools for Writing and Editing Efficiency blog post
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What is Proofreading?

What is proofreading blog post

I am often asked the following questions:

What is proofreading?

What does a proofreader do?

Are you a proofreader or copyeditor? Or do you do both? What is the difference?

Tall Tartan Talks here … This blog post answers those questions.

Do I need proofreading or copyediting?

Proofreading is checking for errors in writing. See below for tips for proofreading your own writing materials.

The tips are aimed at freelancers and authors. Indeed, for anyone who writes. You might even be a teacher who writes reports … (I speak as a recovering teacher.)

 

proofreading

 

Publishing workflow

I will start with the traditional publishing process. How do copyeditors and proofreaders fit into this workflow?

If you are a self-publishing author, the procedure is a little different and less complicated, with fewer people involved.

In traditional publishing this process is as follows:

  • Planning. An author will have planned a concept for a book which will get commissioned by a publisher. This could be fiction or non-fiction. The publisher will have questions: Who is the intended audience? When is it needed by? How will it be published?
  • First draft. There will be a rough, unfinished first draft. The important thing is to get all the ideas included. The finer details and polishing come later.
  • Development. Editorial input means some details may be cut and/or moved around to fit the concept and make a structure for the book. It may also be adapted for clearer expression.
  • Final draft. The book will be in a much more finished state, although there will be more editorial work to do.
  • Copyediting. This stage is preparing the manuscript for publication and tailoring it to the needs of the audience. The copyeditor will ensure consistency of style, readability, and accuracy. They improve the flow and tone of the text.
  • Design. Either an editor or typesetter will prepare the layout of the document by cutting and fitting the text using software like Indesign.
  • Proofreading. Proofreading gives text the final polish. A proofreader will carry out an objective check to ensure there are no glaring errors. The manuscript should be as error-free as possible.
  • Publication. The book is finally sent out into the world in print and/or electronic format. Editors may still be involved by implementing any changes to future editions.

Source: Poster featured in Editorial Excellence, the bimonthly newsletter of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), available to non-members.

Recently, developments in self-publishing mean that an author has more choice about publishing their book without the need for a traditional publisher. It has become easier to self-publish. This doesn’t mean, though, that an editor or proofreader isn’t needed …

Editorial roles

What is copyediting?

What does a copyeditor do? Copyediting is dealing with the raw text: formatting the book to prepare it for publication. The headings, paragraphs, and any tables and figures will be formatted for the designer; spelling patterns applied (UK, US, or other English); grammar and punctuation styles applied; cross-referencing of text and images; and checking the text for accuracy and sense to ensure consistency of style.

The publisher may provide a style sheet or house guide.

The manuscript will be sent to the typesetter who will format the book for printing as a paper publication, then, further perhaps, use software to format the manuscript for digital publication, e.g. on e-reader, such as Kindle.

What is proofreading?

What does a proofreader do? Proofreading is working on the final manuscript just before it is published. It could involve checking all page elements and styles have been correctly and consistently applied; checking hyperlinks work; that the table of contents and index are formatted consistently; plus a final sweep for errors, including inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation grammar and sense.

Catching errors at proofreading stage, even tiny ones, is cause for a happy dance. Imagine finding an italic full stop when it should be roman (upright). In summary, a proofreader will find anything that trips up the reader.

Non-fiction has different elements to fiction. Editors and proofreaders may specialise in one or the other. Punctuating character dialogue is a major feature of fiction.

Further, each genre of fiction, e.g. romance, science fiction, thriller, will have specific elements which the editor or proofreader will check have been included.

Proofreading tips

Here are tips for proofreading your own writing before you click Send or Publish. Consistency is key.

Errors creep in when you edit your text and when you’ve changed your mind about the order of words in a sentence. I should know – it has happened to me more times than I care to say, especially when writing a blog post …

When I write a blog post I write it first in a Word document. After a couple of days away, I come back to it afresh, and copy and paste it in to my WordPress site. I find errors easily this way as I see the writing on my website with fresh eyes.

Everything I learned about proofreading I learned from the highly regarded CIEP (see the website link above). I trained extensively to give validity to my freelance business.

Tips:

  • Read it aloud.
  • Read it backwards from the end. Errors become glaring.
  • Change the colour background of the text. (The default colour white isn’t always helpful.)
  • Change the font to a serif font.
  • Check each sentence for full stops, etc. It’s surprising how often they get forgotten as you edit your words.
  • Don’t try to proofread everything at once. Read for errors, then read for sense. Do a pass for each element you are checking, e.g. headings, page numbers.
  • Use the ratio 20:20:20 for general eye health – after 20 minutes of work, look away from the screen for 20 seconds, to a distance of 20 metres (e.g. looking out of the window). Your eye muscles will thank you.
  • Leave it alone for a couple of days then read it again with fresh eyes.
  • Know when to stop tweaking your writing. Stop now!

Specific tips about proofreading spelling, punctuation and context

Spelling:
  • UK or US English? ise or ize, e.g. realise or realize?
  • Use a dictionary to remove any doubt. Apps like Grammarly might not recognise the wrong word if spelt correctly, e.g. selling/spelling.
  • Are names are consistently spelt correctly? Check spelling of place names, if appropriate.

Punctuation:
  • UK or US punctuation?
  • Double or single quote marks
  • Oxford (serial) comma, i.e. comma before ‘and’ in a list.
  • Ellipsis = 3 dots (…) Do insert a space after. Or even insert a space either side ( … ). No need for a full stop if it’s at the end of a sentence. Whatever style you choose, do it consistently rather than mix up the number of dots.
  • One exclamation mark (!) is fine for dramatic purposes. Use sparingly. Two at the end of a sentence is too much.

Context with the bigger picture:
  • Is the style consistent: formal or informal? Business-like or chatty? Be yourself, show personality, be rich in content, and readable in blog posts. Stay in style.
  • Have you ensured clarity, correctness and convention? Only use jargon if your audience understands it, or you have explained what it means.
  • Is the text sound in the case of accessibility, inclusivity and legality?

Clarifying misconceptions

Editors and proofreaders don’t just find typos. We do much more than that.

I haven’t even covered the use of grammar here; that is a topic for another day.

We are not ‘grammar police’ or ‘grammar pedants’. Your writing is your voice; editors and proofreaders polish your voice. We make suggestions to improve your writing, but, in the end, it’s your choice.

We are an understanding and sympathetic bunch; we collaborate, not compete. If I can’t help, I’ll know someone who can. You need to feel confident that your writing is ready for publication.

Also, although I describe myself as an editor in my marketing, my only editing role is voluntary (for my local, 32-page parish magazine). I have done basic copyediting training, but it’s not my main interest. I much prefer to proofread texts; I have much more training and experience in that area.

I know copyeditors who won’t consider proofreading because they prefer to copyedit and clarify the text, especially in traditional publishing.

Sprinkling publishing confidence

A fellow networker said he saw me in the role of fairy godmother. I thought it suited me. So, next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with your writing and need a sprinkling of publishing confidence, come to me for my proofreading services.

Bitmo Fairy for proofreading
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Contact me to find out my availability for proofreading non-fiction and children’s books.

Further sources of the information found in this post: CIEP Fact sheets

 

If interested, the networking group of freelancers where I shared these tips is called Drive the Partnership Network. We meet on Zoom every Thursday morning from 10 to 11am. The international group meets on the last Tuesday of the month, from 4pm to 5pm, for those who prefer the later time. Ask to find out more.

Gardening Your Business

Gardening your business blog post

Do you ever think about how you garden your business? Gardening or growing your business should be both proactive and reflective.

Mindful Gardening

This blog post was inspired by a whole day I spent on Mindful Gardening. Organised by a good friend, she inspired me with her content. I could relate everything she said to running my freelance proofreading business, change, and the effects on my mental health.

The participants had access to a large garden with room for 10 participants to sit with space, to be still, and to be silent.

It was a luxury to close my laptop for the day and just stop. Just. Be.

Gardening themes

We were guided by her short reflections on the theme of gardening:

  • seeds
  • plants
  • compost
  • pruning
  • seasons and weather

Planting seeds

The seed of my freelance business was planted in January 2017 when I launched my website (proofnow.co.uk) and joined the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP).

I planted more seeds by training and telling everyone I knew that, having left teaching, I was looking for proofreading clients. I watered those seeds thoroughly with marketing and publicity.

Growing plants

If you’re lucky, those seeds grow into seedlings and become stronger plants.

What has helped you to grow in your life? How have you changed as a person as you have become older? How have your life events shaped and changed you?

My ‘toddler’ business got noticed as my marketing became stronger and more confident. I built on my training. Students, businesses and a charity became my clients. Voluntary proofreading gave me experience and confidence. I added to the testimonials on my website.

Feeding compost

Seedlings and plants thrive when they are given the appropriate compost, soil, and feed.

How do you feed your life? What nutrition does your life need to stay healthy physically and mentally?

How do you feed your business? What does your weekly or monthly feed routine look like? Do you ensure all the (plate-spinning) elements of running a business are in place: emailing clients, up-to-date invoices and expenses, admin spreadsheets, marketing, CPD (training)?

Two years after starting my business, I started writing my Tall Tartan Talks blog. My posts demonstrate my expertise, specialisms, and experiences of running a business, shared on social media. They have aimed traffic (potential clients, other editors, and freelancers) to my website. ‘Gro-Sure’ for my business!

Pruning

At regular times in the year, pruning is needed to keep plants under control, otherwise they become untidy, too big, and take moisture from smaller plants underneath or nearby. Plants can be trained by pruning to grow in a symmetrical, balanced way or in a certain direction. Or dead stems removed.

What have you cut or pruned in your life? What wasn’t working and had to be removed? How has your life changed direction? How did you preserve your physical and mental health? 

I review the direction my business is going every quarter. Looking back, I evaluate how much I have achieved of my annual plan and then review. I ask myself, what do I have to do more? What can I do less? The next quarter’s plan is tweaked. And my website is brought up to date.

I like the phrase ‘pivoting’. (Think of that scene in Friends when Ross is trying to get the sofa up the stairs with the ‘help’ of his friends. “Pivot! Pivot!”) It means a change in direction.

A life-changing prune happened in my life in December 2015 when I left the classroom with health issues. It took a year for me to work out what direction that prune would have on my family, career, and future. I had been the main wage earner for my 30-year teaching career.

I’m satisfied that what came next was the best outcome. That painful prune led to greatly improved mental health.

Patterns of seasons and weather

Winter, spring, summer and autumn give the garden it’s natural seasonal pattern and rhythm. Plants and people respond to different levels of light and warmth.

How do you feel when the number of daylight hours are at their lowest? What is your favourite season? When is your mood at its best?

What season is your business in? Sometimes I feel I’m in the springtime of my business: the number of clients is increasing; I am reaching out to publishers and accepting new, regular clients. I am reaching out to those clients I want to work with. Marketing is helping me to grow my business.

Do your business clients react to seasons? Are some months quieter than others? Do some months need more marketing to attract clients? How do you plan for when there are quiet times in your business? In the gaps, can you take a spontaneous week’s holiday … or do some training?

How do you cope with a deluge of rain? How do you juggle busy times when your services are in demand? Or when projects are delayed then land together? How do you schedule projects?

‘Twine’ to round up

How do we respond to the physical and mental hurly-burly of everyday life?

Have you got a garden? Does gardening help your mental health?

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See further

For a Quiet Garden near you: quietgarden.org/

Writing a children’s book?

Writing a children's book blog post

Are you writing a children’s book? Are you an independent author who hopes to self-publish? Not sure how to go about it? I receive many proofreading requests from first-time authors seeking help. Most of the requests that I receive are from indie authors who have found my website and are seeking help to get their children’s book ready for self-publishing. The most common phrase is, I’ve written a children’s story. I am new to all this. What do I do next?” I thought it would be helpful if I put all the information that I give to clients here, in one place. Indeed some of this advice will answer questions asked by any indie authors, regardless of the audience age. So read on if you write any kind of fiction or are an editor for indie authors.

Proofread or proof-edit?

When you ask for help are you asking for a proofread or a proof-edit of your book? They are slightly different and I explain the difference in my services here. If you’re not really sure what kind of help you want, that’s fine.

Age bands in children’s books

I will ask you what age group you are aiming at, and the kind of story you’ve written. Generally, there are a lot of ways to categorise books. But all published children’s books have to be given BIC marketing categories, which have specified age groups based on interest level (not reading level), so publishers will categorise their books into age bands.

Age bands

Children’s fiction and non-fiction will be split into these age groups: 0-5 years, 5-7 years, 7-9 years, 9-11 years, 12+ years. Most non-fiction for primary age is for the 5-7, 7-9 and 9-11 ages. The 0-5 age group can be broken down into 0-2 and 3-5 to specify board books or picture books.

Terminology for each type of book

Board books 0-2 Picture books 3-5 Early Readers 5-7 Young Fiction 7-9 Middle Grade 9-12 Teen 12-15 YA 16+

Genres (types) of children’s books

  • Fiction, eg fantasy, horror (eg Goosebumps series), personal and social issues (by authors like Jacqueline Wilson)
  • Non-fiction: hobbies and interests, reference (for topic research, eg volcanoes).

Use bookshops for ideas

Visit any bookshop and flick through a variety of children’s books. Choose a selection of ages and genres. This will help if you are unsure of where to pitch the vocabulary in your book. Looking at a selection will give you examples of how the writing and illustrations are presented. Also, see how the speech (dialogue) is punctuated, if applicable.

Choosing an illustrator

children's book Have you written a book for younger children? You will need illustrations. Most new clients send me a Word document with the text. It would be useful to know how you visualise your story. The illustrations tell the story as much as the words do. Placement of the illustrations is crucial to the impact of your story. Have you chosen an illustrator? Have you thought about your cover?

If you need help choosing an artist, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) has a directory (see below). From there you can choose a Partner Member who offers a service, eg illustration, book designer, etc. Perhaps you are going to illustrate your story yourself? Marvellous!

Writing a blurb

Have you written a blurb for your story? A blurb is a synopsis found on the back cover which summarises the story … without giving away the ending. There is a particular skill in keeping the blurb succinct. I can help you. I will offer to proofread your blurb, included as part of the final proofread of your PDF.

How can I help you?

I proofread children’s books using my decades of knowledge teaching reading in the primary classroom. Showing my students how to value books and enjoy well-written stories, I modelled how they could improve their writing by discussing how the stories were written. I continue to share reading time with my tutees as part of our tuition lessons. See the blog post I have written about How I Teach English.

What next?

If you are a children’s author, see my Rates page for the packages I provide. I have supported several independent children’s authors to self-publication. They’ve told me they’ve seen my Partner Member profile in the directory of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). Use the link to join.

Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) As mentioned earlier ALLi has a range of helpful resources and guidebooks to support indie authors in the self-publishing process from editing to designing to publication. You want to be proud of the book you’ve written. You need it to be the best it can be. Your editor or proofreader will polish your book or know who to recommend. Good luck! I look forward to seeing your book published.

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Source for children’s book age bands and categories – credit to Lisa Davis, Children’s Book Editor and Publishing Consultant. Fellow CIEP member.

Recommended resource: ‘Pen to Published Podcast’ by Alexa Whitten (independent book publisher) and Alexa Tewkesbury (author, editor and proofreader).

Manage Emails

Manage emails

Would you like to get your email inbox down to zero by the end of each day? I didn’t know such a thing was possible. You may wonder – inbox zero – what is this magic?

Tall Tartan Talks here … I have discovered a non-fiction business book called Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott.

One particular chapter which struck me immediately was about managing your emails. His strategies were revolutionary for me. This blog post is a review of that chapter.

I was one of those people who had over 200 emails in each of my three inboxes. I sorted them occasionally. They were mainly newsletters I subscibe to. Inevitably, if I include my smartphone, I was prone to checking them far too often. But the important emails got lost too easily.

Scrolling through social media didn’t help my efficiency either.

slow hamster wheel

Cluttered inbox

I starred or flagged some important or urgent emails for easy reference, but my inbox was becoming unmanageable. My professional email, annie@proofnow.co.uk was the fullest.

Then I found, in his chapter Ninja Email Processing, where Graham says, “Be a Ninja – take a ruthless approach to emails!” Now I adopt his strategy daily.

Interested? This is how you do it.

Reduce your inbox to zero daily

The bare bones of how to get started are:

  1. Open emails
  2. Create three new files: Action, Read, Waiting
  3. Scan the first couple of lines of each email. If it needs to be dealt with immediately, move into Action. If it isn’t important, move to Read. If you are waiting for someone else to action, move to Waiting.

I used to look at my growing email notifications, groan inwardly, feel fear and overwhelm, avoid, then stress about what might be in my inbox. When I was waiting for a particular email from a client, I would pause a job whenever a notification sounded, whether that job was proofreading, or tuition preparation. I had to check then and there who it was from, especially if I was expecting an email.

STOP!

Graham suggests that the problem needs to be viewed in a different way: your email inbox is just where your emails land; don’t check your emails, process your emails; and don’t let your emails nag you all day.

Strategy

Firstly, look at your inbox as a landing page, not a to-do list. We tend to keep the emails in that inbox so we don’t lose them. The answer? New folders need to be created to hold actionable emails, and those emails which can be deferred.

Secondly, restrict checking emails to, at most, three times a day.

  • First thing in the morning, or 9am (or whenever your business day starts).
  • Second around 4:30pm to give you 30 minutes of reducing your email list to zero. Or later, if you don’t stop on the dot of 5pm.
  • Third, you may also want to check emails at lunchtime.

Me? … I am slowly restricting my addiction of reading of emails after 8pm … in an attempt to maintain work boundaries. The same goes for checking social media or message channels. (My excuse is that some of my editor colleagues are in a different time zone.)

How to process (not check) emails:

  1. Scan the first email for a couple of seconds. Don’t hang about. Ask yourself, is it vital I action this? If yes, move it to Action.
  2. Scan the next email. If someone is acknowledging they will action something you have delegated, move it to Waiting. This guarantees that you will have a reminder to follow this up.
  3. If the next email is something not at all urgent but for perusing, say, a subscription which you want to read at your leisure, move it to Read. Don’t start reading it now.
  4. Repeat steps 1–3.
  5. By the end of 30 minutes, there should be zero emails in your inbox.
  6. Repeat three times a day.

management

Subject folders

You may be like me and organise your emails into many subject, client-baased, or archive folders. Again, this can get out of hand. My next job is to whittle those down to more efficient labels. So that when I have gone through my burgeoning Read file, I will move each email to a re-named folder. Or delete it.

Graham’s theory is that if you have only three files to move the incoming emails into, it makes decision-making and sorting much easier. Agonising will be reduced to a manageable level.

If, say after a week, you look in the Read folder and email subject is no longer current or valid, then delete. Or move it to an archive folder.

One of Graham’s tips is to think of a set of Ds: decide, do, delegate, defer, delete.

Cut the dead wood

Perhaps you subscribe to newsletters by email. For example, if you follow particular people for their business or subject knowledge … there are many out there. It may be time to review them and prune who you subscribe to.

Try subscribing to one for six months. Count how many of their newsletters you actually read (and follow the advice suggested) in those six months. Be honest. Be brutal. Cut out the dead wood and unsubscribe if the answer is only one or two. That is one way to reduce the number of emails you get.

If you are successful with this method, you have more control over those incoming emails.

Information overload

Information overload is a threat to our productivity, so I recommend Graham’s book if you want to be proactive about reducing that overload. By managing your emails, and your time, by procrastinating less, you can focus on your priorities.

I look forward to finishing Graham’s book. Guess what – I have signed up for his newsletter. Oh the irony!

There you have it. If you learnt something from this post, head over to my Blog page.

Author background: Graham Allcott

Founder of Think Productive (@thinkproductive), Graham Allcott is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and podcaster, coaching strategies for business and time management. He is host of the podcast Beyond Busy. His book was first published by Icon Books Publication in 2014, and totally revised in 2019 because of the advances in technology.

Other chapters in Graham’s book include:

  • The Organize Habit
  • The Review Habit
  • The Do Habit
  • Stop Messing About on Your Phone.

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